Glacier and the Canadian Rockies
Updated: Aug 29, 2022
The Rocky Mountain region of Alberta, British Columbia, and Montana offers stunning scenery. Nature lovers and adventure travelers will revel in the incredible beauty of this region. In this entry I will discuss Banff, Jasper, and Waterton National Parks in Alberta, Yoho National Park in British Columbia, and Glacier National Park in Montana. I did not visit Kootenay National Park in British Columbia, which is adjacent to Banff, Jasper, and Yoho, on this trip. Plan to spend at least a week in this area, even if you visit Banff, Jasper, and Yoho on a separate trip from Glacier and Waterton. Both the Canadian Rockies and Glacier/Waterton are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The closest airport to the Canadian Rockies is Calgary, Alberta. Calgary is less than 1 1/2 hours from the fun alpine town of Banff. For Glacier and Waterton, you can fly into Kalispell, Missoula, or Bozeman, or take Amtrak's Empire Builder route. Be sure to book your trip as early as you can, as the region is extremely popular and prices can be high.
After flying into Calgary, my first stop was Waterton, which is about 2 1/2 hours from Calgary. Waterton shares the international boundary with Glacier; together they comprise the International Peace Park. Here you can see where the prairies meet the mountains in a sudden and dramatic way. Take the one-hour, moderate difficulty Bear's Hump trail for a gorgeous view overlooking this region. The Waterton village has a number of hotels, restaurants, and shops.
If you cross the border to go to Glacier, note that the closest international border crossing, Chief Mountain, has been closed since early 2020, and the closing is not well-marked within Waterton. Another border crossing nearby, Piegan/Carway, is a little further and closes at 6 pm most of the year. It will take about 2 1/2 hours to drive from Waterton to Logan Pass in Glacier via the Piegan/Carway crossing.
Glacier is an amazing place. The Going to the Sun road, which requires reservations during the summer months, is breathtaking, and you will want to stop frequently. I hiked the two-hour, moderate difficulty Hidden Lake trail and the longer, moderate difficulty Iceberg Lake trail, either of which I recommend.. The Lake McDonald and Many Glacier lodges are comfortable settings with good food service options within different regions of the park.
Banff, Canada's first national park, is also amazing. I spent an enjoyable morning on a whitewater rafting trip just east of the park. I also visited the Upper Hot Springs, which is worth a short visit, and the Sulphur Mountain Gondola, which offered beautiful views. Your advance reservation to either of these will help you to gain access to parking. There are excellent restaurant options and shops throughout the town. Lodging tends to be expensive. For breakfast and lunch, I ate at the creative Good Earth cafe a number of times.
Next, I visited Johnston Canyon on the way to Lake Louise, which has a short, easy trail in a lovely setting. Afterwards I drove to Yoho, mainly to see the 1224-foot Takkakaw Falls. Be sure to take the short, easy trail to walk close to these beautiful falls. I also enjoyed the views of the Spiral Tunnels, an impressive engineering feat, and was lucky to see a very long train entering and exiting the tunnels as it looped through the mountain.
The beautiful Lake Louise will be one of the highlights of your trip. You can take the short lakeside trail; I took the three-hour moderately steep trail to the Lake Agnes Tea House overlooking the lake, and then further to the Big Beehive and Little Beehive. I recommend either of these additions to this excellent hike; they will not take long from Lake Agnes, and they offer stunning views of Lake Louise, the other lakes you pass during the hike, and the region.
Be sure to reserve a shuttle in advance to visit Morraine Lake, as you will not be able to drive there during most of the day. Morraine Lake seems to me a perfect place and is not to be missed. The canoe rental is expensive but I do not regret this splurge.
Lodging and restaurant options are fairly limited in Lake Louise. I enjoyed the historic Deer Lodge, which is a short walk to the lakefront.
You will stop often on the Icefields Parkway. This 150-mile journey took about ten hours, which included eight stops. Book your reservation for the worthwhile Columbia Icefields tour in advance, and be sure to select a time; otherwise, you will probably need to wait about 2 hours or more. Do not miss the stops at Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, Sunwapta Falls, Athabasca Falls, Mistaya Canyon, and Maligne Canyon. The town of Jasper is charming, offering several lodging, dining, and shopping options.
Back in Calgary, I made a side visit to the Royal Tyrell Museum of Paleontology and the Alberta Badlands (Horseshoe Canyon), which are about 1 1/2 hours east of Calgary near Drumheller. The museum is top-notch, and the badlands were worthwhile.
Regardless of your age and activity level, you will enjoy the mountains, scenic drives, hikes, waterfalls, canyons, lakes, and activities of these amazing places.
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